might as well be plant-based this week. That is another way of saying the feud between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher that lit up talking season this summer is about as meaty as Beyond Burger.
The two coaches have made peace … as much peace as can make between clenched teeth.
“That’s over with,” Fisher said this week. “He and I are in great shape. We’ve moved on.”
We may be able to judge that by Alabama‘s margin of victory Saturday. If Saban decides to lay a number on the Aggies (24-point underdogs, according to Caesars Sportsbook) he seemingly can do it. Texas A&M is scuffling after an 18-point loss to Mississippi State that followed an upset to Appalachian State a few weeks ago.
That alone distracts from what was initially expected to be the game of the year because of the simmering animosity alone. Add Jimbo breaking through as the first Saban assistant to beat the master last season, and you’ve got appointment viewing.
Except the storylines have switched quicker than an up-tempo offense. Texas A&M enters near the bottom nationally in plays per game (56.2). That’s part of the problem for a coach who was known as an offensive mastermind and quarterback developer.
Fisher has been neither lately. He’s also— or whatever you call underachieving in Year 5 with nine years left on his extended 10-year monster contract.
The Aggies are out of the national championship hunt and on the verge of being eliminated from the SEC race. There’s pressure on Fisher to produce. There’s also pressure on Texas A&M’s boosters and administrators to decide where the line is before they produce — buyout money.
There are some who will tell you that’s no pressure at all. As one FBS coach told CBS Sports, “There’s no in betweens at Texas A&M. If they can have enough money in the bank [to pay the coach], somebody can write the check [to fire him].”
Given that 10-year guaranteed contract, those boosters and administrators have a lot to do with this situation. They’re the ones who went all in. That’s what Texas A&M usually does. Actually, that’s what big-time college football does these days. It just becomes a measure of risk tolerance and the number of zeroes on the contract.
Already in the last month, we’ve seen a grand experiment fail at Arizona State. Nebraska‘s can’t-miss native son … missed, forcing the Cornhuskers into another reboot. Wisconsin fired a coach with a .720 winning rate.
Is Fisher about to become the Bloody Sunday victim? Highly unlikely.
Still, it’s worth asking how much patience is left after that Mississippi State loss. Fisher has yet to find a consistent quarterback. Starter Haynes King was benched after a slow start. Backup Max Johnson is now injured and day-to-day for Alabama.
Fisher left the door open to the reality of five-star freshman Connor Weigman playing Saturday.
“What do you want me to do, call Nick and tell him?” said Fisher when pushed on the issue.
The answer is part of Fisher’s trump card to critics. He can/must sell the future. That all-time No. 1 recruiting class from this past cycle is a chip to be played. The future is not now, it’s in 2023 and 2024 when that class is supposed to mature and contribute. Given that, this year always had the look of an eight-win season — a transition year … if Aggie Nation can swallow hard enough.
It also might reflect what Fisher is these days: a master recruiter who has lost his offensive touch. That’s not necessarily something of which he should be ashamed. There have been coaches who won championships as CEOs who buy the groceries and let the assistants cook the meal.
Meanwhile, Fisher probably owes Bryce Young a “thank you” note. Overshadowing this week’s game is the condition of Young’s shoulder. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner and Alabama starting quarterback is day-to-day with an AC joint shoulder sprain suffered last Saturday against Arkansas.
We’ve gotten this far before mentioning both teams may be starting backup quarterbacks. Both coaches will leverage their reveals right up until kickoff. Will it make any difference?
Regardless, theare certainly old news. When they were both available at SEC Media Days, we asked Fisher how he could make up with a peer and former boss he called a “narcissist.”
“You’re not from West Virginia, are you?” Fisher asked. (Fisher and Saban are both natives of the Mountain State.)
Jimbo then went on to describe how West Virginians can be at each other’s throats one minute and be pals 5 minutes later. Interesting take. This week, it is relegated to the anecdote oldies bin.
The issues are bigger in the rivalry and the league. Georgia looks vulnerable. Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss looks like a legitimate challenger in the SEC West. Tennessee is off to its best start since 2016.
But a revenge motive sells better than WrestleMania. So does quarterback uncertainty.
One program is on top. The other desperately wants to be there. Throw in millions of dollars, stir with impatience and serve hot.
Is that meaty enough for you?